Everything is light. The priest's eyes are full of white, bathed in purity. Everything is light.
Whiteness is replaced by form as walls flicker into existence like fluorescent lamps in a seedy bathroom stall. Soon, the priest is in a room, his home and before him sits a burning bush and he is a Moses as before God. The past never happened, his only memories are light, white and pure and the priest rejoices as he sits in his house at the right hand of God in Heaven.
The bush changes, growing, weaving, extinguishing into a form, a manta ray poised in the air like a cobra's hood before pulling back, wings clipped and folding into spindled arms and cold white faces. A being made of light, an angel.
He drops to his knees, the priest, his joy unsurpassed. He has been chosen to witness such terrible beauty, these cold hard beings, unfathomable as the mind of God himself. A door opens in his mind and he sees a past not of light, but darkness, a poison fruit in the tree of knowledge and he shuns it but the angel urges him on.
Trust in the Lord. The angel sings. Tell us your stories.
He is there, in his own mind, this hell and he knows that it is truth and weeps for mercy, weeps at the suffering of it all, that he could have endured that place beyond the light, that he could be forgiven for being tainted so. He sees the Book of the Lord in his hand, he sees the message but he can not remember the words and as he flicks through the book one last time the pages are blank, no, the pages are light.
No! The angel screams and suddenly the world is plunged into blackness and he is cold and in pain and the sounds of choirboys singing buzzes in his head. The priest wears a crown of thorns but he is no saviour and in this moment it all comes back and he knows there is no salvation. The blank face of an angel looms, it's dark slit bleeding disappointment and the priest closes his eyes, prays a thank you that the Book was taken from his mind before he could betray the faithful.
More prayers, brothersister. The angel hisses silently, the words are not for him, the priest knows, but equally he knows the angel wants him to hear.
Prayers can not save you now, Priest. Another angel's voice sings and suddenly he is falling, air rushing past as a pin-prick hole closes up above and he is birthed into a sky dark and stormy, high above the city.
The thorns are gone and with a thud, the sound of broken glass and silence, everything is light again, but this time, this time he knows.
* * * * *
The Sanctuary stands as a vast pit, filled with the droppings of a fallen city. The waters tumble down from sewers on high, red and brown and clear and splash against the sleeping giants, skyscrapers lying on their sides as if to rest. At the centre lies the Garden and Ruth makes her way there, Henry following behind with his curious bobbing gait. Over twisted metal and cracked stone the path winds and she passes others, all busying themselves towards a goal that none of them believe in. Salvation is a dream, a hopeless hope but Ruth holds in her hand the key to making that a lie.
The Garden is a slant, an angled slab of dirt and faith built upon a grave. When the pit caved in, the graveyards above emptied into this place, filling it like a grisly cup as the hole sealed itself with falling concrete. A valve to stop the back-flow of the lifeblood to this barely beating heart. The Garden brings them food; fruits and vegetables eating up the dead and rewarding the living with their labours. Thus the Sanctuary has been since before Ruth's time, before even Henry's, who still remembers things before even the Elders were children. At the centre lies Eden, a humble church of white rubble and grey metal and Ruth wanders through the wheat-stalks towards the door.
It swings on well-oiled hinges, silent and inside the Elders turn from their manuals towards the influx of light and the smell of corn, a look, pained from lack of practise, of hope on their faces. Ruth holds the book up high and Henry signs the pairs arrival.
Come! Come! The Elders beckon with their hands and they approach, the unlikely pair triumphant, placing the book before the great tree, the backbone of the church that holds Eden up, even as it's stone walls and metal bracing crumble.
Crowding around, they huddle and Ruth is overflowing both shock and awe as the Elders open the book, granting her the honour to be present. The first page turns and then the next, faster and faster in a panic as they all realise something is wrong. The pages they are blank, a piercing white.
In the book before the tree of knowledge, everything is light.